Review: Metamorphosis, Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh Fringe

Assiduously constructed and impressively acted, Different Theatre’s female-oriented Metamorphosis rings with a new voice and in certain moments resounds with accomplishment. In this one-woman retelling of Franz Kafka’s time-honoured novella, Greta displaces her brother Gregor, becoming the protagonist of the tale. Heather-Rose Andrews delivers a fluid 60-minute dramatic monologue through which details of Gregor’s grisly transformation are gradually filtered. However, the quirk of this production is the way in which it explores the transformation that Greta herself undergoes. Writer and director Sam Chittenden uses the supernatural changes that take place with Gregor to throw the natural changes that occur in the period between girl- and womanhood into relief. 

Andrews’ delivery is committed and consistently engaging. The inflection of her speech quickly develops into a circular pattern which, although initially mesmeric, risks feeling repetitive as the production progresses. Notwithstanding this, Andrews embodies her character with aplomb, retaining the flexibility to switch between the different voices required to lay bare the range of Greta’s character arc, incorporating the shifting family dynamic and her own development. Above all, Andrews captures the tone of the piece with her physicality. It is refreshing to see an actor who engages every inch of her body in her movement. From outstretched, grasping fingers to wide, glazed eyes and the rhythm of her breathing, Andrews does a remarkable job of reinforcing the disjointed sense that pervades this re-working of Kafka.

Chittenden’s script deserves all the praise it has received. Although an audacious concept, at no point does this production’s shift from the text’s original narrative perspective feel forced. Of particular interest are the moments in which we lurch out of the body of the plot for unrestrained comment on Kafka himself, hunched over his typewriter, writing of Gregor’s transformation, while, perhaps, neglecting the changes that so often come over ordinary people during their lives. Perhaps the great triumph of Chittenden’s version is that it achieves a sense of the labyrinthine (appropriately reminding us of the Kafkaesque) alongside palpable tension. As Andrews shifts over the stage in this intimate venue, Chittenden’s words seem to spiral out of her mouth with arresting tautness. Nevertheless, it might also be that the diligent research and precision of Chittenden’s script excludes some audiences from a full grasp of the plot. It occurs to me that in order to maintain their attention Chittenden might perhaps have included a few more handles for those unfamiliar with Kafka’s work.

Different Theatre’s Metamorphosis is a fascinating piece and Heather-Rose Andrews’ command of the text shines through; although it might not act as the most straightforward introduction to Kafka’s work, it is wholly original in its comment and realisation.

Metamorphosis is playing Sweet Grassmarket until 25 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.